MERIT program being expanded
A $13 MILLION program that started in Lismore has been so successful in drug rehabilitation it is being expanded to include alcohol treatment for offenders.
However, the Lismore-based magistrate who helped implement the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program 10 years ago, Jeff Linden, has questioned the costs that could be associated with a statewide Alcohol MERIT program.
MERIT began in Lismore in 2000 and since then it has become a successful statewide program, having seen more than 13,000 participants and with 8458 completing it successfully.
The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has shown that completion of the program reduces re-offending by 12 per cent.
The program offers drug treatment prior to sentencing as a voluntary option for non-violent defendants before Local Courts who have a drug problem; are suitable for release into the community on bail; and are motivated to engage in treatment and rehabilitation.
This week, NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos announced that nine courts across the State would commence Alcohol MERIT.
Mr Linden said if Alcohol MERIT went statewide it would be a brave move by the NSW Government.
“The majority of the Local Court’s time is taken up with problems that are alcohol-fuelled,” he said.
“It would be a large burden on the public purse, but I would welcome it.”
Mr Linden has been inextricably linked with MERIT, and will be so for many years to come, as he is the magistrate featured in the training video viewed by solicitors, police and health workers. The video also features high-profile rugby league referee Tony Archer.
“I was asked to do it, but since then no agents have rang me to offer any (acting) work,” he joked. “I found out about MERIT when I was sent a brochure to my office and was told I would be doing it.
“It was from humble beginnings, but many people worked very hard. We were a test case, a bit of an experiment, but the results we got were a testament to the hard work and the program.
“Getting the judicial system and the health system to work together is never easy, so it’s a credit to a lot of people.”
Yesterday, the State Government declined to specify if the Alcohol MERIT program would be run out statewide.
“So far the program is run in a handful of courts and further announcements will be made in due course,” a spokeswoman said.
However, the Government hopes Alcohol MERIT will help them reduce re-offending rates by 10 per cent by 2016.